The "Northern Front" of Global Energy Wars

15:00 16.05.2012 • Pyotr Iskenderov , PHD in History, senior researcher at the Institute of Slavic Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences



The global energy games (or wars to be more exact) have taken an important turn in the favour of Russia. In the near future the gas supplies going through North Stream route from Russia to the European Union may substantially grow. The Nord Stream AG company share holders asked experts to study the prospects for boosting the capability of the sub-sea Baltic gas route going from Russia to Germany. The company’s formal statement on May 11 says: first, the further diversification of the routes guarantees reliability of gas supplies. Second, the demand in Europe is to grow in the long term future due to economic and ecological advantages of natural gas and decrease of the EU own production. 

The Nord Stream AG share holders established rather strict fixed time limits for the expertise. The whole range of activities related to the study assessing the expediency of building one or two additional lines is to take eight months. After that a corresponding decision could be taken. Let’s recall the first of two Nord Stream parallel gas route lines was commissioned in November 2011. The laying down of the second line is over, it goes through balancing and commissioning now. With the second line commissioned by the end of 2012 the Nord Stream capability may increase to 55 billion cubic meters a year. 

In July 2012 federal Chancellor Angela Merkel and then President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev discussed the possibility of building a third additional line.But back then Germany opposed further increase of gas supplies from Russia and the issue was postponed.

The change has taken place due to the whole range of factors. First of all, the ongoing crisis in the EU member countries. It’s an objective reason limiting the EU options of an independent broker on energy markets, including the search for new suppliers or the development of alternative energy sources. At the same time no way the Europeans can escape the situation when they import up to a half of the energy resources they need. In future their external sources supply dependence will only increase and go up to the 70% level by 2030. In case of gas it may be as high as 81%. 

The other important factor is of political character. There is a ruling elites change process going on in Europe. The last indicator of the trend was the result of the presidential elections in France, the country with which Germany enjoys close, though full of pitfalls, relations. It makes Berlin review its priorities. One of consequences may be a policy aimed at closed strategic partnership with Russia, something Angela Merkel have been shying away from in recent years. Moreover, Germany faces elections in 2013 and the ruling right-of-centre coalition will have to tell the voters what its achievements are. The increase and reliability improvement of energy supplies may be one of important pre-election aces. 

It’s an open secret some North European states, as well as some bureaucrats from the European Commission, are still skeptical concerning the North Stream prospects. They see it as something like a Russia’s “geopolitical spear” aimed at the heart of Europe. Vytautas Landsbergis, member of the European parliament, made a well known statement saying: “The new Russian-German alliance, which is today called an 'energy alliance,' is a plan to change the political map of Europe.” Some time ago the Polish Seim made a statement saying the gas project undermined Poland’s security and independence. All this being said no matter the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union admitted the Nord Stream was a project that met the interests of the whole Europe and gave it the status of a “TransEuropean net” (TEN). 

And nothing like that was mentioned in the resolution adopted in Tallinn in November 2005 at the session of the Baltic Assembly Presidium. The only thing the document said was that large scale regional infrastructure projects should be based on the guarantees of energy supplies and the security of all Baltic states. 

At last the reasons of financial and economic nature make Europeans recognize the benefits of energy cooperation with Russia. It’s enough to see how the price of Nabucco gas route, that is supported by the European Union and the USA, goes up. Its estimated price was $8 billion, now it has gone up to as high as $14 billion. The Western experts see the hikes in raw material market prices as the main reason. The crisis makes the Europeans cut down expenses. The North Stream already functions and it has proven its efficiency from point of view of European energy supplies security. 

The probability is rather high the geopolitical battles around the North Stream will intensify in the near future. The USA acts as the leading instigator. One can expect the Scandinavian and Baltic states, as well as Poland to renew the previous attacks against the project. It’s not excluded the project will join the agenda of the impending top-level meetings: the G8 summit on May 18-19 in the US President’s Camp David country retreat and the NATO summit on May 20-21 in Chicago. 

Not accidentally one of recent US National Intelligence Council reports puts energy security into the focus of global geopolitical games. The document offers a review of possible situation development. It says the tension between the states that compete for limited resources will grow. The growing confusion in the Middle East and overall loss of confidence in the market ability to satisfy the grown consumer demand will exacerbate the situation. According to US experts, the events development may lead to further intertwining of state policy and geopolitical concern. 

It’s easy to notice the estimations by and large coincide with the ones put forward in 1997 by former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski. According to him, the main goal of the US energy policy in Eurasia should be providing access of leading and energy consuming economies to the rich resources of Central Asian republics via pipelines that do not cross the territory controlled by Russia. 

The goals of the Western energy policy were defined in April 2007 in the FY 2007 – FY 2012 Strategic Plan prepared by the US State Department. It says after the Cold War the priority goal is to counter the Russia’s negative actions including its growing influence on the world energy market. The plan is being actively implemented now as the Obama’s administration is to report on its fulfillment to the Congress this year. 

The Plan says one the US government chief goals is to prevent Russia-EU energy alliance. New oil and gas routes to Western Europe are offered along with simultaneous counteraction to Russia’s energy projects by political, financial, economic and other measures at the disposal of the US government. The strategy fits well into the system of the US global priorities calling for the use of all available means to protect the state’s vital interests, especially in the field of energy security. It’s not occasionally the Vision for 2020 by US Unified Space Command stipulates the mission that envisages the use of near-earth space in order to pursue US foreign and economic interests. The energy security is defined as a major priority by the new NATO Strategic Concept, including beyond the Alliance’s geographic area of responsibility, at least for the next dozen years. Evidently the “energy wars” have a long way to go.

The opinion of the author may not coincide with the position of editorial



read more in our Telegram-channel